It was around this time last year, as the hail beat relentlessly down and every park seemed engulfed in mud that I decided for my sanity, my marriage and the fact that my children could not remember a time when it was warm enough not to wear shoes, we needed to spend a week in warmer climes. But as every mother knows, very rarely is there a real holiday with children. New parents soon learn to rename what they previously termed a holiday, as simply, travelling with children, generally more stressful than simply staying at home.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was adamant to give it another try. My parameters were clear – I wanted sun, I wanted a beach but I didn’t want to have to deal with a long haul flight or jetlag. I stumbled on the Martinhal, a family friendly resort in the Algarve. Immediately I envisaged of kiddie hell but as I explored the website it seemed that this hotel accommodated the discerning parent in need of some spoiling alongside the short attention span of a toddler.
Hiding at the very western part of the Algarve, the Martinhal is well away from the brutal high rise monstrosities that characterise some parts of this sensational coast. In the spring, the hotel is surrounded by a vivid techincolour carpet of wild flowers, stretching over the rugged coast and plunging into the sea. We had a little house, nestled in the pinewood forest with two bedrooms and an open plan living, eating area opening out onto a little garden with a…wait for it…fenced in pool.
The hotel is the brain child of an entrepreneurial mother of four who got frustrated with children friendly hotels not providing the service and style that a certain group of people want. We all know mothers are ruthlessly practical and this is very much in evidence; they have really thought of everything – there is a stair gate at the top of the stairs, a non-slip bath mat in the bath, Tupperware to put snacks in for the beach in the kitchen, high chairs, plastic plates and cutlery, there’s even a puree menu.
Our week was about as perfect as it gets. In every restaurant there was a little, supervised play area set up with lego and drawing which meant the children could be distracted while we had a glass of rose before lunch arrived. The pools were all warm enough for the children to spend hours swimming and not risk hypothermia. When they could stand the water no more, they moved to the playground, enticingly situated in the sand complete with a recessed trampoline. Overlooked by the restaurant, we could sip yet more rose while our children made friends and enjoyed being barefoot.
But it’s the beach that is the best. The Martinhal sits directly on a glorious long sandy beach and it’s quite simply children heaven. We went exploring amongst the rocks, built amazing sandcastles that were decorated with wild flowers and protected by deep moats. The children made friends and joined groups of children building mega sandcastles allowing us to actually read a book, superbly comfortable on beach bean bags. Exhausted by a full day outdoors, our little ones collapsed into bed at 7, allowing us to enjoy an evening of freshly caught fish and exquisite Portuguese wine.
Looking back, this holiday was revolutionary. It was the first time we came back from a holiday actually relaxed and happy. The most stressful part was dealing with the tears when our children realised that we actually had to leave this utopia. We still talk about it and we’ve already booked for this year… but for two weeks this time…
MARINA FOGLE runs The Bump Class, antenatal classes that are informative, impartial and above all great fun. Each course is tailored to meet the needs of parents who want to learn about the practical elements of pregnancy, child birth, breastfeeding, parenting and first aid from a supportive, pragmatic and unbiased point of view. www.thebumpclass.com